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Why You Should Shop at Mom and Pop Stores

By , May 20th, 2009 | 16 Comments »

I live about two miles away from “Restaurant Row,” a road that has an amazingly high concentration of restaurants from Mickey D’s to fine dining. I generally do not visit any of them, with only a few exceptions. Nestled among all of the high end chains (Roy’s, Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, etc.) there are a few Mom and Pop operations that offer charming service and good food offered by people who live in my community.

I went to a local pizzeria on Restaurant Row last week. Admittedly, the pizzeria was a franchise of a larger “emerging” chain of green pizzerias, but the owners of the franchise were locals. I had a wonderful time but the meal was not perfect. Accordingly, I sent an e-mail to the franchise owners to offer some constructive criticism. The owners responded with both concern and appreciation and when I returned to the restaurant yesterday, all of my concerns had been resolved. I have never known a national chain to pay such close attention to patron concerns.

There is also a small French cafe near Restaurant Row. It is always crowded because the owners, recent immigrants to the USA from a suburb of Paris, really deliver amazingly high quality cafe food and their coffee is the best I have had locally. The owners — Claude and Chantal — knew me from my first visit to their cafe and they never forgot me. They greet me as a friend and never rush me away from one of their few tables. I can sip coffee and read for an afternoon and pay for only one cup. They do not offer free refills because the concept of a refill is alien to them. If a patron wants coffee, they think he should get enough to satisfy his craving.

By comparison, I visited a national chain yesterday because I had received a gift card. I walked by the valet who was playing a handheld video game even though three cars were waiting to be parked. I had ordered takeout and been told that the meal would be ready in 15 minutes. I arrived after 20 minutes and still had to wait another 20 minutes for my order. When the order arrived, the staff had completely failed to follow my instructions (e.g. the $11 Cuban sandwich that I ordered without lettuce, tomato, onions or mayonnaise for a very finicky high school student arrived with all of the aforementioned offending condiments on the sandwich).

There are a lot of reasons to patronize the Mom and Pop shops in your neighborhood, including:

Local Businesses Put More Money into Local Economies: Claude and Chantal, the owners of my French cafe, live in my community. That means that the profits from their business are much more likely to be spent in my community. That helps to keep my community healthy and improves my property values.

Local Businesses Provide Access to Business Owners: When you shop or dine at a locally owned business, you usually get to meet and to know the owners. The owners have much more of stake in the success or failure of their businesses than even the head manager of a national chain. Local owners will hear your complaints and act on them.

Local Owners Reward Patronage: Local owners do not need to resort to “frequent buyer” promotions or other promotions. They know their clientele and they reward it. When was the last time you walked into a Starbucks, ordered a cup of coffee, and been told by the barista “no charge”?

Local Owners are more Likely to Support Your Business: Local business owners are far more likely to adopt an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” approach. Local owners have symbiotic relationships with one another. If you stop at a locally owned sandwich shop for lunch, that shop owner is going to be much more likely to use your services, whatever they may be.

Local Owners can become Your Friends: When I visit my French cafe, I am visiting business owners who were strangers a year ago but who are now my friends. I have tried to bring a spirit of friendship to national chains as well, but the staff never last long enough for me to get to know them.

Why do you think we should shop at Mom and Pop stores and restaurants? Are local businesses preferable to national chains or do you prefer the consistency, however bland or saccharine, of the national chains. Where do you like to spend your money?

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  • Ann says:

    I like Mom and Pop places. 🙂

    In addition to restaurants and getting to know the people who run them, Mom and Pop stores can be a lot of fun!

    They have more of a tendency to offer unique items… frequently made by local artisans. They’re also much more helpful when it comes to special orders. They go out of their way to help you find exactly what you’re looking for and want. (I’m thinking of a small, local furniture store… who almost beat me to my house with my new chair the last time I bought something there! LOL)

    There’s a really cool log cabin supply place near here that has, not only log furniture, but also locally made pottery and art. There are also some gift shops and gardening supply places where you don’t find mass-made-in-China stuff but really unique things for your yard.

    Living in the country, spinning and weaving and other yarn arts are a big thing. (There are actually sheep farms around here that start with the fresh shorn product and go from there.) You can actually find custom dyed yarns frequently made using natural dyes… not something you’d find in one of the national chains! You can also find unusual and/or handmade tools… some of which are very beautiful!

    There’s also a glass artist in a town only about 6 miles from me. His work is absolutely beautiful! And you’ll definitely NOT find anything like it in the local mall. LOL

    Yup, I definitely like the Mom and Pop operations and everything they have to offer!

  • simpleyme says:

    I think it is neat that you appriciate local businesses

    the line among business owners is that “the local never shop here but sing our praises when its time to sell their house”
    the little store I work at is a nice place with local owners that live in the community we sell cheap milk and bread ,we only see the locals when their kids are selling stuff,it is really disheartening.
    If it was not for people passing through town on business we would go broke

    • PK says:

      @simpleyme I hear you, I am working on an idea to address the issue you mentioned. I would love to discuss the issue in depth with you.

  • I visit Mom and Pop food places for one reason only. They have better food. Better quality products should be on the list.

  • Carol says:

    I agree, to an extent. Oftentimes, franchises are owned by local people, not big conglomerates. DH and I own a non-food franchise. We treat it like a mom and pop type store, and take good care of our customers (and employees, who are also all local people). Yes, in the end the company who owns the name gets a cut of the sales, but you are still supporting your local economy by visiting franchises. I wouldn’t single them out completely. Most places identify their owners somewhere within the establishment.

  • Chris K says:

    I only agree for certain situations. Service oriented things like restaurants mostly. From my experience in a small town, (not counting restaurants) the only places you can shop if you, you know, have a job is the big mega-chain. Going in at 9 and closing at 5 may be nice for the folks working there, but not if you aren’t unemployed.

    Also, when I read the first example I thought of my experience where if you complained even in the slightest you’re shunned for the rest of your days because they *do* remember you so well.

  • I do agree with you on this.. mom and pop shops also are more willing to do the following
    1- Deliver your grocery etc at your home for no charge.
    2- Sell stuff on credit to you. This is like buying on credit card without paying any interest.
    They might some times be short on variety and brand value.

  • disneysteve says:

    I totally agree with restaurants. We almost never go to chain restaurants. The quality is low and the service leaves much to be desired. Give me a family/chef owned restaurant any day. I’ll gladly pay more for that meal.

    I also agree with Chris about mom and pop store hours. They often don’t have evening hours. Many are closed on Sunday. And they can’t compete on price with the chains. Unlike a restaurant where quality and service matter, if I’m buying a widget, I just want the best price.

  • Jackie says:

    In my hometown, the mom and pop restaurants are not better than chains unfortunately. Though breakfast is nicer. There are a few clothing stores, but everything is so expensive that they seem to only cater to the more affluent in town. My family does like to shop at a local flower and gift shop. It is also rather expensive, but the gift items they stock really are high quality and unique. Every once in awhile they’ll have an item you can find at a cheaper Big Box store, but that’s rare.

    So it’s a toss up in my hometown. *shrug*

  • Rob says:

    I can see both sides of this.
    I frequent a number of Mom and Pop businesses in my town simply because I am friends with the owners. I realize that I’m paying a bit more for the products and/or services, but I understand why. In a time when so many people seem to be looking for a handout or bailout, I want to do everything I can to reward those with initiative, drive, and work ethic. Besides, establishing and building relationships with people in your community is, ultimately, one of the most important things any of us can do.
    For the past nine years, I’ve gone running 4 or 5 mornings a week and then stopped in at the local corner store for coffee and conversation. The cast of “regulars” has become part of my life: the eccentric, wild-haired math professor; the affable home inspector who has “connections” everywhere and a million stories to tell; and the retired gym teacher with an endless supply of one-liners to start your day off right. This is the stuff of life, and you can’t find it just anywhere. So I don’t mind if I have to pay a little more for it.
    On the other hand, I don’t know why we, as a society, tend to demonize successful chain or “big box” stores. After all, most of these started off as small enterprises and found a business formula that produced results. Why should we penalize success? If someone has figured out a way to deliver me a product or service at a great price, why should I view them as “predatory”? What’s the message here? Should we tell our kids to aim to be successful — but not TOO successful? So I don’t have a problem doing business with a chain store if they truly offer me a superb value.
    I think there’s room for both Mom and Pop and chain stores, and I’ll shop at both.

  • persephone says:

    There are a lot of reasons to demonize big box stores. They take money out of the local community. They are a visual blight on the land. They destroy a community’s look and feel. I would much rather shop in a locally owned business than in a national chain.

  • Rivver says:

    While there aren’t a lot of mom and pop restaurants or stores in my area, there are 3 or 4 local bike and running shops.
    As an avid runner I wear pricier running shoes and go through a few pairs a year. I could’ve bought them online for cheaper but the local running store raises money for local charities, holds local races and sponsor many local events. I decided to spend a few extra bucks to support our local running store the way they support us.

  • getfo says:

    I just go for the lowest price and better quality. If I want my money to benefit some event or charity, I can donate it directly to them.

  • spicoli says:

    I agree with getfo. I don’t care who owns a store or restaurant as long as I get what I paid for.

  • Marlena says:

    As a “mom & pop” style franchisee,(loosely held franchise – mostly defined by “buying power of numbers in exchange for a percent of sales) I own and operate a local retail shop, and can tell you nobody cares about anything except the price they pay. The personal pocket book rules, period. Unfortunately that means my business will certainly not thrive, and will likely not survive beyond the end of summer.
    Even though ours is a “wholesale” concept, and our customers all brag about our “fabulously low prices” they still don’t buy until we mark items down until we’re actually paying the customer to take the merchandise. These same customers continually tell me that they hope we don’t go out of business. Puzzling that we would have to point out that we cannot continue business if no one buys until they’re sure we are losing money.

  • Sheila says:

    Thank you for the vote of confidence. I own a Mom and Pop store, and it is a LOT of work. I find that the Wal-mart tends to start carrying every new thing I introduce, which is a bit aggravating. One example, my custom stuffed balloons – the Wal-mart in the next town actually carried pre-stuffed balloons for awhile. I doubt they were cost-effective for them, but it’s just the principle of the thing. My customers came in and told me about it. They were mad and defending me. LOL(I am blessed with great customers). I never believed that Walmart really bothered to gun for small business, but I have to admit, it sure seems like they do.
    Marlena, I find that I have more success if I don’t mark down, mark down, mark down. People know what I have, what I offer, and when they want it, they come in. I try to keep my inventory and pricing fairly consistent so they can count on my having what they’ve come for. It isn’t easy, but it is what I’m hoping will keep me afloat through this economy. Though I must admit, with the high unemployment here, the iceberg is ever closer to my little Titanic.
    Best of Luck to you. 🙂
    As for the rest of you, THANK YOU for supporting your local merchants!
    Customer appreciation is not just a marketing scheme. For us, it is genuine. We’d be nothing without you.


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